Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Not So Happy Fouth of July

Today is the day millions of Americans celebrate the birth of our independence. There are barbecues, fireworks, beach outings, baseball games. It's the day that we celebrate everything American. A day when we celebrate our history, the battle for independence, the building of our nation and the continuance of its existence and prosperity. Nonetheless, there was a place in this great nation that July 4th went by as just another hot summer day on the calendar. No fireworks, no barbecues, and no celebrating America. What kind of backwards town could do such a thing? And more importantly how could something like this happen in America?

As most problems in American History, the issue with the Fourth of July in this particular town is rooted in the Civil War. The Siege of Vicksburg was the last major battle of the Vicksburg Campaign. Vicksburg was a Confederate stronghold and very well fortified.Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant called for the first attack on May 19. As it was stopped, he immediately ordered another later in the week on May 22. With the same result Grant had to change his strategy. The Siege of Vicksburg officially started on May 25, when Grant said, "I now determined upon a regular siege—to 'out-camp the enemy,' as it were, and to incur no more losses." The city of Vicksburg was brought to its knees, the Union Army was well entrenched order the city while the Union Navy bombarded the city regularly. As the siege continued, more and more Union troops arrived and by mid June Grant had surrounded the city with 77,000 men. It was now just a matter of time until the city of Vicksburg fell.

Vicksburg can be best compared to a hellish inferno during the siege. Food was scarce, half the Confederate Army in the city was sick and hospitalized, disease ran rampant, some were reduced to eat the leather off their shoes and belts to survive, and housing was disappearing daily as the Union blasted the city with 22,000 shells during the siege forcing people underground into man made caves. As if this wasn't bad enough, the supply lines to Grant's men was strong coming in from multiple directions and depots. The Confederates made several attempts to disrupt these lines but never could do enough damage to stop them. In the first days of July began to make a path into the city, but on July 3rd everything changed. The Confederate commander of Vicksburg was Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, he sent a letter to Grant demanding unconditional surrender. Grant would not even entertain that idea as he was unwilling to care for the sick and wounded of Vicksburg. Instead Grant paroled all those in the city in hopes that their stories of the siege would destroy the moral of the Confederacy. The surrender took place on July 4, 1863. The Union had split the Confederacy in two and now controlled not only Vicksburg but the Mississippi River as well.

In the end, the Union had lost about 5,000 men while the Rebels lost roughly 3,000 and surrendered around 30,000. Yet it was a result of this siege that the city of Vicksburg would not celebrate the Fourth of July for the next 80 YEARS! It was a result of the siege of the city, the distress of the residents of Vicksburg, and the refusal of aid to those of the city. The Civil War lasted another two years but it was the Siege of Vicksburg that was the turning point of the war. The Confederacy was split and on it's last leg. But for those in the city of Vicksburg, the events of summer of 1863 could not be forgotten. For the next 80 years the national holiday went unobserved. Banks, businesses, and local government all stayed opened. The children of the town did not have have a chance to be in awe of fireworks that light up the night sky. Families and friends never gathered at barbecues to celebrate the day our nation claimed independence. Nothing happened, just another hot July day in Mississippi. It wouldn't be until World War II that the bitter taste of the Siege of Vicksburg was washed from the city's mouth.

To imagine an American city, with AMERICANS living in it, not celebrating perhaps the greatest moment in our nations history seems preposterous. Yes, I know that southern culture clings to it's rebellious roots which  they are quite proud of south of the Mason Dixon Line, but come'on. The Fourth of July represents more then just the Union. It represents freedom, the ideas on which our nation was founded on. It represents some bad ass dudes not willing to stand by and let tyranny rule them. For me, Independence Day should have never been ignored the way it was in Vicksburg for as long as it was. Yes, the city was destroyed but they are Americans. Today there are still some people around to remember not celebrating the Fourth of July. It was a tradition passed on much the same way the rest of the nation passes on celebrating American Independence. The Civil War is a dark cloud in our history. It was burdened with bloody battles, political & social issues and they near destruction of our nation. But the fact alone that we as a nation survived it is a testament to the work done by those men on July 4, 1776. Today, Vicksburg is like any other American city on the Fourth of July. Banks, business, and government buildings are closed. Family and friends gather for a good time. Children are entertained by fireworks. During WWII, the city realized that they were not the Confederate city anymore, but a part of the United States of America. The celebration of July 4th in Vicksburg today is proof that Americans will never turn their backs on their independence and their roots in the American Revolution. Today, on this our Independence Day, it is important for us to realize we are all Americans regardless of social class, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religious faith, or whatever have you. Today is a day for America, a day which continues the legacy of this great country. 

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